With deadlines and assignments each day, composer Stephen Schwartz barely has time to perform at Queensboro Performing Arts Center, let alone giving an interview.
Q. What was the first song that you wrote?
A. I was around 6 when I wrote a song called “Little Lullaby” for a puppet show that my sister and I were doing for our parents about a dog that had run away from home. The very first Broadway show that I wrote a song for was “Butterflies Are Free”, which turned into a movie that starred Keir Dullea. At that time I received a Princely sum of $25 a week. The first full Broadway show was Godspell, which was originally produced Off-Broadway. Pippin was the first show that opened on Broadway. I was 24 at the time.
Q. When you’re writing for a show, do you write from the script or book?
A. “Book” has two meanings. For instance an adaptation of the novel by Winnie Holzman from which Wicked was written vs. the scripted dialogue. I and my collaborator outline the show and figure how we’re going to tell the story through song while analyzing the characters as to the tone in which they speak.
In Wicked, the decision was that the leading character, Elphaba, would have a first song in which she dreamed about some day meeting the Wizard entitled “The Wizard and I”.
Q. I notice that there are songs that you compose either the lyrics or music?
A. I work closely with Alan Menken, known for shows like Beauty and the Beast. For the show Enchanted, for instance, I wrote the lyrics while Alan wrote the music.
Q. Do you have an expectation of what will become the “hit numbers” in your Broadway show?
A. I’m always almost wrong about that. For instance with Godspell there is this song called All Good Gifts that I clearly thought would be the hit. As it turned out it was Day By Day which was recorded by Robin Lamont for the original cast version. When you’re writing for a musical in contemporary times because it’s so story oriented and character driven you really can’t worry about writing something that might have a life outside of the show. Cabaret performers will choose a song that people like hearing and show off their talents.
Q. Is there a favorite show?
A. I’m partial to a show that people may not know called Children of Eden. It is personal and I believe it has my best score. The Spark of Creation has had much recording as well as Stranger to the Rain, Whatever Time We Have, and The Hardest Part of Love. There are shows that I write without an expectation of their coming to New York such as Baker’s Wife.
Q. I understand that you worked for Disney?
A. Working with Alan I have done three animated films: Pocahantas, of which the best known song is called Colors of the Wind; Hunchback of Notre Dame; and Enchanted. Hunchback of Notre Dame was recently adapted into a stage musical, which we are about to record the cast album in a couple of weeks.
Son of Pinocchio, originally called Geppetto, was a television special. Children’s theatre groups were interested and so we did a stage adaptation. Sonya Isaacs did a “pop” recording of the movie title song, If I Gave My Heart Away. She is a wonderful singer with an evocative voice.
Q. Do you ever sing any of your own songs?
A. I can sing, but I’m not a singer. People do like to hear a songwriter sing his own songs. I will be singing at the QPAC event. However, I have three singers that will be performing songs from my shows.
Q. Are there any shows in the making?
A. I’m working on an upcoming adaptation of the animated movie, The Prince of Egypt, for which I have written songs. Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston popularized “When You Believe”. Although the production may not go to Broadway it will be licensed for theatres around the country to perform it.